How the pain signal travels throughout the body?

Scientists discovered a pathway that drives sustained pain following injury.


Scientists at the Harvard Medical School have discovered a nerve-signaling pathway behind the profound, sustained pain that sets in promptly the following injury. The discoveries likewise revealed insight into the diverse pathways that drive reflexive withdrawal to maintain injury from damage and the ensuing pain-coping reactions.

Clinical perceptions of patients with neurological harm together with past research have sketched out the distinct brain regions that separate between the reflexive withdrawal from a skin prick, for instance, and the enduring torment emerging from tissue damage caused by the pinprick.

This is the first study that maps out how these responses provoke outside the brain.

Scientists conducted the study on the mice, where they focused on the existence of two sets of peripheral neurons — the nerve cells located outside the brain and spinal cord.

One set of peripheral nerve cells sends and gets signals only to and from the superficial layers of the skin. As the first line of resistance against outside dangers, these peripheral nerve cells are intended for forestalling damage by activating reflexive withdrawal.

Another arrangement of neurons is scattered all through the body and thought to drive the enduring pain that sets in after introductory damage and incites pain-adapting behaviors, for example, squeezing a slammed finger or licking a slice in the skin to sooth the damaged zone.

Though, the existence of these neurons could not fully explain how the pain signal travels throughout the body and to the brain. Thus, scientists proposed the existence of another critical player in this relay.

They focused on a lot of neurons called Tac1 exuding from the purported dorsal horn, a group of nerves situated at the lower end of the spinal cord that transmits motions between the brain and rest of the body. The exact capacity of Tac1 had remained ineffectively seen, so scientists were keen to know whether and how these neurons were associated with the sensation of sustained pain.

For the experiments, scientists categorized mice in two groups: Tac1 neurons and another with chemically disabled Tac1 neurons.

Mice with inactivated Tac1 neurons had normal withdrawal reflexes when exposed to a painful stimulus. They showed no notable differences in their withdrawal from pricking or exposure to heat and cold. However, when the researchers injected the animals with burn-inducing mustard oil, they did not engage in the typical paw licking that animals perform immediately following injury. By contrast, mice with intact Tac1 neurons engaged in vigorous and prolonged paw licking to assuage the pain.

Similarly, mice with disabled Tac1 neurons showed no pain-coping responses when their hind paws were pinched — something that induces sustained pain in humans. These animals did not engage in any paw licking as a result of the pinch. Such loss of sensitivity to a specific type of pain mimics the loss of sensation seen in people with strokes or tumors in a particular area of the brain’s pain-processing center — the thalamus — that renders them incapable of sensing lasting pain.

These outcomes suggest that Tac1 neurons play a vital role for pain-coping practices originating from sustained irritation or damage however that they assume no job in reflexive-defensive reactions to external dangers.

Next, scientists were interested to know whether Tac1 neurons shared a common connection with another class of neurons, called Trpv1. Trpv1 are present throughout the body and already known to drive the sensation of lasting pain induced by injury.

Mice that had functional Tac1 yet nonfunctioning Trpv1 neurons reacted feebly to squeeze initiated torment, indicating negligible paw licking. The finding recommends that pain-sensing Trvp1 neurons interface with Tac1 neurons in the dorsal horn of the spinal string to transmit their signs.

Study senior author Qiufu Ma said, “We believe that Tac1 neurons act as a relay station that dispatches pain signals from the tissue, through Trpv1 nerve fibers all the way to the brain.”

“The results of the study affirm the presence of two lines of defense in response to injury, each controlled by separate nerve-signaling pathways. The rapid withdrawal reflex is nature’s first line of defense, an escape attempt designed to avoid injury. By contrast, the secondary, pain-coping response helps reduce suffering and avert widespread tissue damage as a result of the injury.”

“We believe it’s an evolutionary mechanism conserved across multiple species to maximize survival.”

Additional investigators included Tianwen Huang, Shing-Hong Lin, Yan Zhang, and Ying Zhang of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Nathalie M. Malewicz and Robert H. LaMotte of Yale University; and Martyn Goulding of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

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